An Introduction to CHEM-647 Case Study Problems
Authorities in our lives tell us what to believe. Thus we grow up with certain prejudices about people and the way the world works. Parents, teachers, radio & television commentators, journalists, the clergy, and politicians all participate in this indoctrination. In this society, certain words such as "environmentalist," "terrorist," "choice," and "gay" evoke strong emotional reactions in part because the truths of different authorities do not agree. It is impossible to be aware of and examine all those things we believe to be true. Nevertheless, challenging one's personal truths is part of becoming a credible independent authority.
This course deals with evolution, a subject that can evoke strong emotional reactions. Whether or not a person "believes" in evolution, few people have a solid understanding of evolution. While virtually everyone has heard of Darwin's The Origin of Species, very few have read it. One can agree or disagree with the theory of evolution by natural selection after one has studied the evidence, but to simply believe implies reliance on another's authority. This course aims to make you a credible independent authority on evolution with an emphasis on specific case studies in biochemical evolution. This is a subversive goal. Independent thinkers threaten the status quo. You should challenge ideas, yours, your peers', and the instructor's throughout this course.
If you are interested in the debate about teaching evolution in public schools, you should visit the web-site for the National Center for Science Education. While this debate is not a major public issue in Delaware at the moment, a recent opinion piece by Cal Thomas, who displayed his poor scientific understanding of evolution, provoked several letters to the editor, but not the flood that came in 1995. The letters clearly revealed a lack of public consensus on this issue. Because such letters are limited to about 200 words, there is little opportunity to develop arguments based on evidence. Consequently, correspondents on both sides of the issue made unsupported assertions.
Newspapers provide a poor forum for scientific discussion.
Consensus in science is not decided by public polls or majority vote. Rather,
competing hypotheses are evaluated by analysis of evidence and repeatedly
challenged. Debate and disagreement among scientists is healthy provided
all sides attempt to understand conflicting arguments, are willing to challenge
their own ideas, and avoid personal attack. In that spirit, please make
the most of the case study problems in this course.